Discover our hidden history on local walks

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Today I am going to let you see three rural, or semi rural, images of Briercliffe.

My reason for doing so is to remind you we are at Easter, which, in my book, has always signalled the beginning of the rural walking season. I have tried to do my rural walking in good weather. In winter, I prefer to visit villages and small towns.

Recently, for example (inspired by Richard III, whose remains are now interred in Leicester Cathedral) I visited what was once his “home town”, Middleham, North Yorkshire. Before he became king, in 1483, Richard had been a loyal supporter of his elder brother, Edward IV, who died suddenly leaving an unresolved problem about the succession.

I was about to add “we all know what happened next” but, in reality, that is not the case, and it is likely we will never know who, for example, killed Edward’s two sons, the Princes in the Tower. These were Edward V and his younger brother, Richard. Their uncle, the new king, usually takes the blame.

In Middleham you can still see Richard’s great castle, which, at one time, was at the heart of the government of the north of England and, on my trip, I also visited Leyburn and Masham. I like all three places but, particularly, Leyburn and not only because its name resembles that of my home town!

Neither Leyburn nor Masham are sizeable but both are full of interest. I must be a man of simple pleasures as I enjoy exploring places such as these, looking down their narrow ginnels and yards, imagining how individual buildings have changed over the years, keeping my eyes open for something different to my North-east Lancashire experience.

I will be doing this again, this year, as I hope to complete some work I have been doing on the handloom weavers’ cottages. I have looked at examples in Lancashire, West Yorkshire and Cumbria and, by autumn, should have gathered enough material for a talk on the subject. In fact, I’d better be ready as I have agreed to talk to the Downham and Twiston Local History Society on the subject this autumn.

Of course, I will not forget I like to walk in the countryside in the spring and summer but I do not see why I should travel very far to enjoy a country walk. There are exceptions of course, like Hackfall, near Masham, which I thoroughly recommend to you, but in my native parish of Briercliffe there are over 50 miles of field footpaths so I am going to introduce you to three places in Briercliffe you can see on these walks.

The first one introduces us to Briercliffe “Strid”. You will all have heard of the famous Strid at Bolton Abbey. This Strid is near the equally famous Barden Tower which, once provided shelter to Mary Queen of Scots, but like the one in Briercliffe, it served the same purpose.

The word “strid” is a corruption of “stride” and it refers to the practice where young men, often with pretty girls to impress, used to leap from one stone to another, the gap between them occupied by the waters of a fast flowing stream. The dangers were obvious and many a passionate lad has had his ardour cooled by a ducking in the frozen waters of the Wharfe, in the Yorkshire Dales, or the equally cold waters of Thursden Brook, here in Briercliffe.

Our Strid is not as impressive, or as famous, as the one at Bolton Abbey. It is located just below Monk Hall, which is in Extwistle. In the background, in the picture, you can see part of Monk Hall Woods. The Strid itself is in the foreground and you can see the deep pool of water in front of it.

To be honest, the Briercliffe’s Strid is not quite on a local path but is not far from the path which connects Thursden to Monk Hall. This is part of the “Valley of the Goblins Walk” which is to be published by the Briercliffe Society. We have delayed publication because the county council has being doing some work on part of the route, but, once we have checked everything, the walk will be made available and, hopefully, very soon. I don’t think anyone would mind if you have a look at our local Strid and, even if you don’t, the walk is full of interest.

The second photo is, as described on the postcard, of “Ormer Hole Bridge, Briercliffe”, but this is not the name by which the bridge is known today. I suspect t the photographer was told where he was by a local dialect speaker. The correct name is the Ormeroyd Bridge and this comes from “Orm”, a personal name, and “royd” (or “rod”), a “clearing in a wooded area”.

When I was a boy, this was a favourite place for my brothers and I as it was here we did a bit of poaching. Neither Stephen nor myself were much good at it but Tony was a born tickler of trout. They were mostly of the brown variety but, straight out of the cold waters of Thursden Brook, and cooked on a little wood fire of our own making, they tasted great.

Close to the bridge, by the tall tree, you can see, on the left, that the path overhung the stream. It was here the fish used to idle away their time. They did not suspect three young brothers knew their hiding place but, only in the last day or two, I have been told we were not the only ones who knew of the habits of the local brown trout. Willie Greenwood, and his friends, knew about this place, too.

If you have looked at the postcard you will have noticed the steps leading from the far side of the bridge to the high point on the skyline. These were stone flags and, though many of them are now covered by turf, some of them can still be seen.

Many of Briercliffe’s paths were laid to stone as they were very heavily used in the days of the handloom weavers who needed good routes to the warehouse where they collected new work and to which they delivered their finished cloth. When wool and cotton were fully mechanised, the spinners and weavers needed access to the early mills and one of them was at Roggerham. Similarly, the paths were used to gain access to the old coal mines and quarries which can still be seen in this area.

On the right, by the little tree (a hawthorn, I think) you can see some exposed clay. This was the site of a small clay pit, but, look a little to the left, and you can see a stone stile into a wall. The wall is the inner boundary of the monastic grange at Monk Hall but there is more that makes this feature interesting.

The field which is bounded by the wall is not like others in the area. The latter conform to the norm of straight walls, hedges or fences but this field is “rounded”: not perfectly round but “rounded” all the same. Fields such as this are quite rare but they indicate the land has been farmed from ancient times. The monastic grange at Monk Hall was founded in 1190, the consequence of the famous attack on the Jews of York, in which many were killed, by its citizens, one of whom was the Lord of Extwistle.

Isn’t it amazing, when the history of such an unprepossessing spot as this turns out to be so interesting? I would like to be able to claim the same for the next picture, but I am afraid I can’t. We are in Cockden, one of the loveliest places in Briercliffe.

Cockden village is on the Haggate to Roggerham road and dates back to at least the 16th Century when it was occupied by the Halsteads of Cockden. It was merely a small farming community which also developed an interest in the wool and, later, the cotton trade.

There are some very interesting buildings in the village but this photo is taken in Cockden Lane (now Todmorden Road), just out of the village, above the bridge that carries the road over Cockden Water. The things that interest me are the narrowness of the lane, the Holloway (ie the fact the lane is, because of constant use, way below the level of the adjacent fields) and the rural views that can be seen from this spot.

The land either side of Cockden Water was heavily “treed”, if that is a word, until the late 19th Century. You can see the extensive woodland in the bottom of the valley, a lot of which has now gone and, in addition, the hedge trees by the lane itself can also be seen. I can recall the last days of the dying tree directly behind the lady in the centre of the image.

Another thing that interests me is the way the land on Extwistle Hill is divided up with both hedges and walls. This area was subjected to extensive open cast mining in the 1950s and the old pattern of enclosures changed for ever.

I am really looking forward to my next walking season and will be visiting all three places mentioned in today’s article. However, if you want to see old photographic images of the Briercliffe area, all you have to do is call in at the Weavers’ Triangle Visitor Centre in Manchester Road, Burnley, where there is to be an exhibition until autumn.